The largest UK study on social ties in the period of the pandemic revealed that more than one fifth of adults reported experiencing a breakup in their relationship at work or home.
Experts said that younger people were more likely than older people to experience a breakdown in their relationships. This was due to the large-scale effect of the pandemic. Experts suggested that anxiety about finances and job loss could have been factors, along with the inability to visit people outside of their home during the lockdown.
According to the University College London's Covid-19 Social Survey, 25% of respondents reported a worsening relationship with their partner or spouse and 25% reported problems with coworkers or colleagues. Over one-fifth (22%) of adults have experienced a total breakdown in their relationships with family, friends, or neighbours.
The ongoing study, which was launched one week before the lockdown began, showed that people aged 18 to 29 were more likely than those aged 60 or older to report a relationship breakup 35% more often than adults over 60.
It wasn't all bad news. Nearly half (46%) of young adults stated that their relationship with their partner or spouse was better than normal over the past year. This percentage is higher than that of adults aged 30-59, 60, and older. 27% and 21% respectively reported a better relationship to their spouses or partners.
The Nuffield Foundation is funding the study, along with Wellcome and UK Research and Innovation. The study has attracted more than 70,000 participants who were followed for the past 72 weeks.
The lead author of the study, Dr Elise Paul, from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health said that the report revealed the mixed effects of the Covid-19 epidemic. She said that younger adults may have had better relationships with their partner or spouse due to remote working or furloughs, which allowed them to spend more time together.
However, other factors such as the stress caused by the pandemic or lockdown measures that prevented people from seeing others outside of their home may have led to other relationships being broken down, especially those with people far away.
Paul stated that groups with less anxiety, especially older people, are less likely to experience financial and job loss anxiety.
This again shows the unfavorable impact of the pandemic upon those whose lives were most affected, whether it was the loss of a social life or the stress caused by frontline jobs or insecure employment.
Over the two months prior to the end of the third lockdown, the proportion of people worried about getting or becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 rose to 36%. However, it appears that this is declining again. It now stands at 31%. More data will be required to confirm this trend.
Cheryl Lloyd, education programme director at the Nuffield Foundation said that younger adults are more likely than older ones to report a relationship breakup. In recent months, however, they have also reported more concerns about becoming seriously ill with Covid-19, financial worries, and lower levels in life satisfaction. The research can be used to inform policy decisions as it provides valuable insight into the challenges that different generations face.
A network of over 70 researchers is being managed by the study team. The network brings together dozens of clinicians and scientists who are collating data from mental health research projects in different countries.